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Wednesday, 20 September 1972
Page: 1725

Mr BENNETT (Swan) - I rise tonight on 2 matters. Recently I had cause to raise with the Department of Customs and Excise the question of some imitation gilt candleholders which had been sold in Perth in a manner which was quite attractive to the buying public. However, what the manufacturers failed to disclose was that the candleholders were made of an inflammable material. As 1 understand it, the candleholders are sold throughout Australia, there being, I am informed now by the Comptroller-General of Customs, no prohibition on their importation. This is an appalling situation and I feel that the public should be warned. A constituent of mine purchased one of these items and gave it as a birthday present to his daughter who subsequently lit the candles and left them burning on the wall. A fire occurred which damaged the house and those in the house were indeed fortunate that they were able to douse the fire in time to prevent it from destroying the house.

These articles are brought into the country and I suspect that there is a substantial profit to be made from them because of the cheapness of manufacture and the amount of money for which they are sold. Some recently on sale were marked down from $10 to $5. Each one is a lethal piece of furniture. The regulations allow such a dangerous item to be imported but let us not say that the item is not dangerous for I have photographs of the damage done to the house and the remains of the candleholder which I am given to understand was quite attractive when it was sold. The item comprises 2 candlesticks and a mirror in the background. Who would not be tempted to buy it as a gift for, say, an aged mother or a young child? Who would not be tempted to light the candles if a power failure occurred or in circumstances where it was felt that candlelight was appropriate or if it was desired to use them as a nightlight?

In case there is a fatality before some action is taken I am raising the matter in Parliament. I feel that the public should be made aware of the danger of this type of material. It is far past time that national Australian consumer protection standards were adopted in relation to materials and designs of both Australian and imported goods. The existing Australian standards association is a manufacturers' association concerned only with Australian goods. It is not a statutory body and does not look at imported articles or control Australian products sufficiently. It is the manufacturers' technical experts who do the research on their products and it is highly unlikely that standards will be laid down which would necessitate even minor increases in cost. In Britain and Canada there are strict safety standards, particularly for children's articles. Little attention has been given to this matter in Australia and I ask that some action be taken to provide controls in this area.

Another matter of a serious nature to which I wish to draw the attention of the House is the appalling treatment of some purchasers of war service homes which were built or purchased in Western Australia in the immediate post war period. These homes have substandard brickwork which is not apparent when they are new. In addition the homes are subject to inspections every 5 years to meet loan requirements and as a result of these inspections instructions to repair the homes may be given. The Minister for Housing (Mr Kevin Cairns) is currently looking into 2 cases in my electorate and I hope that some favourable solution will be found to the problem of restoration of these buildings. It is not possible to sell these homes. At one home one could put one's hand into holes in the wall. Surely some insurance is available to cover restoration work and to protect people against initial bad workmanship. In this respect I instance the cases of Mr G. Currie of Como and Mr Doulton of Manning. Mr Doulton's home has fretting of brickwork, holes in the mortar and allows water through the walls. It is a health hazard and also a structural hazard should there be an earthquake. I would not like to see too many heavy vehicles go past as further damage will occur. This matter of sub-standard construction has been brought to the attention of the Department and the Minister by Mr Currie. Letters from people reveal that this is clearly a common problem in Western Australia. How many other people are similarly affected is unknown. I quote from Mr Currie's file. As far back as May 1966 he received a letter from the then Minister for Housing, Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin, which stated: lt is apparent from all these reports that it is not possible to ascertain with any certainty the cause of the fretting of the brickwork in your home, which has taken place since the home was erected some 14 years ago. Nevertheless the official papers do show that the State Housing Commission shared wilh you the cost of the repairs carried out to the brickwork in 1963, even though the Commission was in no way obliged to assist you at all in this matter.

In your letters you make it clear that you are not satisfied with the assistance which the Commission made available to overcome your difficulty. However the point is that you, as the house-holder, are responsible under the terms of the Contract of Sale which you entered into when your purchased the home, for any maintenance necessary to keep your home in good order and repair.

I have had regard to all the circumstances, but I can find no reason or justification why the cost of any remedial work required to the home at this point in time should be borne out of public funds. I regret, therefore, that I must confirm that no responsibility can be accepted by the Director of War Service Homes for any further repairs to your home.

God help the consumer, in this instance a man who served his country. After being away he bought a home - his dream home - and finally found that he had been sold something shoddy. I find this completely despicable. There is a continuing tone through the letters that Mr Currie received. On 9th February 1966 the Director of War Service Homes wrote:

The General Manager informs me that it was necessary following a routine periodical inspection of the home in June, 1963, to draw your attention to the need for certain items of maintenance to be carried out, including the repair of fretted mortar to the brickwork.

I am told that fretting of mortar in brickwork is a relatively common problem in Western Australia probably because the climatic conditions - winds and driving rain - are conducive to mortar decay over a period of time. Fretting of mortar is particularly prevalent in homes built in the early post-war years and probably the scarcity of cement and the poor quality of lime available at that time are the main causes. The problem is not confined to War Service homes.

The repair and maintenance of a property is a responsibility of the householder and under the terms of the Contract of Sale which you entered into at the time you purchased your home, you are responsible to carry out any maintenance necessary to keep the home in good order and repair at your own expense. Repair of fretting mortar, especially after a' period of time, is a maintenance matter and therefore your responsibility under your contract. lt is completely beyond me to understand the reasoning behind this argument of buyer beware', which applies in this instance, it would appear, to people who have bought war service homes. I look for a final solution, which must be found. I am sure that the Minister will endeavour to find a solution. It is not sufficient to finance people to buy sub-standard homes when it is proven that there is a general problem with the group of war service homes that was constructed in the immediate post-war years.

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